Urban Ag Week goes (mostly) virtual

Last week, July 20 – 26, marked the 4th Annual Pittsburgh Urban Farm Tour in conjunction with Pennsylvania Urban Ag week. Due to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, organizers from the East End Food Co-op, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, and Grow Pittsburgh opted to go virtual with this year’s events, though that’s not to say it wasn’t a full and vibrant celebration of Pittsburgh’s urban growers and their projects.

While the urban farm tour is traditionally completed via a self-guided bicycle tour, this year’s stops were pre-recorded and premiered throughout the week. An unexpected benefit to this format was the ability to showcase the growing projects harder to reach by bicycle over Pittsburgh’s many hills and bridges. Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding provided opening remarks to Monday’s tour stops, alluding back to a previous year’s tour stop, the Mt Oliver Community Garden as a model for growing a community  around food and highlighting “the marvel of the food system” for its ability to deliver under extreme demand in a pandemic.

The tour proceeded with a visit to Sol Patch Garden, an urban flower farm on Hilltop Urban Farm, tended to by Collette Walsh. Wednesday took viewers back to Duquesne and the gardeners at the Duquesne Community Victory Garden, which graduated from our community garden program last year. The tour concluded on Friday with a Northside stop in Pittsburgh’s Perry neighborhood, at the United Somali Bantu Mwanakuche Community Garden. This year’s online format also allowed viewers to learn about integral community partners across Pittsburgh’s urban ag sites: Hilltop Urban Farm, Grow Pittsburgh’s Master Composter and Garden Sustainability Fund programs, the City of Pittsburgh Adopt-A-Lot program, and the Soil Sisters Urban Plant Nursery.

While the virtual farm tour was a great success, not all tours were taken online. On Friday afternoon, Urban Ag Week concluded in a more traditional sense at Braddock Farms. Farm Outreach Coordinator Robert led a masked and socially-distant tour with the PA State Fair Queen, Butler Fair Queen, Derry Township Ag Fair Queen, and their families, who are more accustomed to visiting vast corn fields and dairy farms than our one-acre operation in the shadow of a steel mill. The density of Braddock Farms was certainly a farming “culture shock” to the fair queens who hail from more rural parts of the state, and demonstrated the importance of education and outreach about urban farming as a strong counterpart to traditional agriculture and viable response to food insecurity.

If you missed any of the “live” tours this year, head over to Pittsburgh Food Policy Council’s YouTube channel where all of the stops are archived and available for viewing. While we’re certainly looking forward to hopefully returning to our usual style of tour next year and celebrating these urban growing projects in person, as Secretary Redding said, “with our five senses,” we’re grateful for the continued partnership and support of our community of growers to highlight the important and powerful spaces that are urban agriculture.